Venice Island’s $46m makeover debuts in Manayunk

A decade in the making, Venice Island’s new recreation center and storm-water project opened in Manayunk with Tuesday’s official ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Mayor Michael Nutter, City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and others.

Venice Island now boasts a $46 million state-of-the-art performing-arts and recreation facility, basketball court, outdoor amphitheater, rain gardens and, among other facets, an underground storage basin.

“This part of the city needed a great venue for performing arts for the community and to bring in other groups,” said Helen Haynes, the city’s chief cultural officer, of the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center.

Jones, who represents the area on council, noted the importance of sustainable design and collaboration, saying he never imagined he’d receive the title of “green” councilperson.

“I’m an inner-city boy. The closest I came to nature was the grass that grew up in between the concrete in my neighborhood,” he told the assembled crowd. “When I got here, one thing I had to quickly learn from the business association and the advocates for [Manayunk] was to care about green.”

More than an arena

The island is located between the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill River, just off Main Street.

After performances from a vocal group from Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and  “Hype Master” Sterlen Barr, speakers discussed those sustainable management features to which Jones alluded.

A pump house (with a green roof) will reduce the volume and velocity of stormwater runoff from roofs.

Stormwater tree trenches with underground infiltration structures were installed.

Perforation pipes under the sidewalks distribute water throughout the tree trenches.

And, the underground storage basin will prevent overflow from the sewer to runoff into the river, promoting healthy, clean drinking water and overall environment.

“When we looked at the center, we wanted to make sure we designed something that is a prototype, or an outdoor classroom, for the model green infrastructure that we’re doing,” said Joanne Dahme, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Water Department. “It’s a really good opportunity for us to use this site as a place to show what these tools look like and how they operate.”

What they said

Among those who educated Jones on sustainability issues was Kay Sykora, to whom he presented a plaque renaming a part of a street in her honor.

Sykora is the director of Destination Schuylkill River, a project within the Manayunk Development Corp. She said the honor surprised her since the Venice Island initiative was a group effort.

An early arts-facility proponent, she also talked about the benefits of those programs.

“It’s so exciting,” she said. “It will give kids access to some professional theater that includes everything from managing the lights backstage to managing sound systems.”

After-school and summer programming will be offered for youths at the center designed as a community staple.

“We want this to be a venue [that the non-profit arts community feels] is theirs, which they can use, and is affordable,” said Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor for community and environmental resources. “We want to find those events that will generate revenue so that we can sustain and improve the operations here.

“It improves the neighborhood, prospects for kids, improves the art and culture scene and drives economic development. And that’s the beauty of it.”

The new recreation center has not yet scheduled performances. Sykora said they’re still learning how to strategically program and accommodate recreation programs already in place elsewhere in the area.

Still, the prospects have her excited for Venice Island’s future.

“I think this is an absolutely gorgeous well-equipped facility that will provide such a platform for all kinds of activities,” said Haynes. “I was just imagining the types of events that could happen here. It’s really encouraging. It’s very inspirational.”

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